The ultimate side quest.

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Rogue One is the first of likely many Star Wars supplemental stories that fill in the gaps between the films and extend the already massive universe. Fair warning, this review contains massive spoilers.

We follow Jyn (played by Felicity Jones), and several other people with hard names to remember, as the rebels work to find the plans of the Death Star. I have never been a huge fan of the Star Wars series. I missed the original trio as a child and the prequels simply didn’t live up to the hype. While I have always appreciated some of the elements within the films, I always thought something was missing.

Interestingly, Rogue One illuminates both the strengths and the weaknesses of the series as a whole. The film begins with a scattershot of exposition (over many different planets), which concerned me. The breadth of the narratives (this one in particular) are quite large. However, the film is able to focus itself around a convincing story.

The good part of this film is the realism around the rebellion. They are outmatched on every front and must resort to guerilla warfare. Early in the film, we watch a radicalized group of rebels attack a shipment of a rare crystal. The camera-work and action sets the scene up as entrenched warfare. I enjoyed this thoroughly. For me, it always seemed that there was too much fantasy in the universe. The absence of the Jedi allows this film to show more of a human component to the battles.

However, these high moments do not last. A follower of the Force, Chirrut (played by the always charming Donnie Yen) intervenes and is more or less a Jedi (sans Lightsaber). Here, the film becomes a bit problematic for me. The brutal realism is diminished with these characters, but these characters do add a lot of fun to the story. The story balances between pleasing audiences more in line with me and audiences in line with the original series, but I don’t think it fully satisfies either.

The primary goal of finding the plans for the Death Star is done well, and the operation on the beach is filmed well. I suppose a problem with the film is that we all knew how it was going to end (with the rebels’ success), so the attempts for suspense are a little forced. However, the film does push the series into a darker territory than before.

The Star Wars series more or less operates on a binary of good/evil. This film works to undermine that more than any of the others so far. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go far enough in these moments of complicating audience expectations.

Overall, the film works on a lot of levels. However, it also lacks in several areas. I think I enjoyed this one more than Episode VII, which might irritate some folks out there. The pros of Rogue One are that if you find yourself a little annoyed by all of the “magic” in the universe, this one peels that back a bit. The cons are that there are still a lot of moments of cheesy dialogue and fan service that simply add nothing to the story at hand. They took some risks with this one, but they were safe risks. Hopefully, as the endless barrage of these films come, they embrace more experimentation. Worth a watch, for fans and newcomers to the series.

Addendum:

I watched the film two days ago (the review is sitting in the backlog). Upon further reflection, the film is good, but doesn’t leave you with much. I found myself barely thinking about it once the review was done. I am not saying the film is bad, but it lacks a bit of profundity for me. Granted, I could say the same of most Star Wars films. The near ending scene of our two main characters on the beach stands out as a strong moment. For the first time in my life, I think I am optimistic about the future of the series. 7.75/10

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